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Phuket & Pattaya Jet Ski, the ultimate fun or scam-tool?

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

© Frank P. Schneidewind

When the motorcycle powerhouse Kawasaki branded their watercraft with jet propulsion "Jet Ski", they did not expect to brand an entire range of highly mobile miniature vessels. 1973 saw the first prototypes of Jet Ski as stand-up versions with bike-like handlebars. Motorcycle engines gave them enormous power and speeds, yet kept manufacturing cost down to a low level. Other motorcycle manufacturers followed suit quick and designed their own personal watercraft. Yamaha's line was called WaveRunner and featured easier to handle hulls with up to 3 in-line seats. Kawasaki's line was geared more for the extreme sport society and demanded a much higher level of skill to operate. Today's range of so called "Jet Ski" for rent are almost all Yamaha products, which are relatively easy to operate and service.

So expect a WaveRunner, when renting a Jet Ski at any place in Thailand or Malaysia. Prices for rentals of personal watercraft have escalated dramatically over the last decade. While half an hour on a fairly new, fully equipped model in Batu Ferringhi or on Langkawi in Malaysia costs you from 25 to 50 Ringgit (250 to 500 Baht), the charges for older models in Phuket, are about three times that high! That was one of the reasons, the author did his own jet skiing some years ago, in Malaysian waters, for a fraction of the price on better and newer WaveRunners..

Gangs of young men usually surround each Jet Ski on Thai beaches, looking for customers or victims of their scams. Some of them may be regular business folks, but headlines in international media in the past, were reporting frequently on such scams in Phuket or Pattaya. In a concerted action with corrupt police officers, renters were often charged wildly inflated prices for any damages, these watercraft already had upon their pick-up. This was seen as a great source of additional income and some police dudes might have been in this vicious circle. BBC and other reliable news sources, reported knife or gun wielding staff, threatening the renters out of their cash in bulk! YouTube is full of similar reports, just use their search-tool, if interested. Neither Pattaya nor Patong have a month without incidents, but those are  usually suppressed in the local media. Foreign Police Volunteers on Pattaya Beach, have been ordered not to get involved.

The guys there grow in numbers almost by the year, with Pattaya Beach, Jomtien and Patong on Phuket, having witnessed the most dramatic increase in numbers. Other resort islands have decided to keep their beaches clean and swimmers safe, by prohibiting jet ski rental operations. In some cases that must have been a wise decision, because those resorts enjoy a much higher guest satisfaction rating and get a lot less bad press from the Jet Ski scams.

Renters are rarely aware of the potential damage to their wallets. Being in a holiday mood, they just want to max out their fun. Most rental Jet Skis have scratches and damages to their hulls and exterior anyhow, any service is restricted to the engine and exterior decals. Below pictured old-timer (pre-Millennium), should for instance have a mirror inside the yellow casing, who knows how many seasons it is lacking this and how many renters have already paid for it. Jet Ski rentals on crowded beaches are an annoyance to parents with kids and swimmers. I have witnessed Jet Ski races, where diver's buoys (anchored markers of a dive-site, signaling people below!) were used to race around (Koh Larn, Pattaya). Heavy injuries through contact with a speeding Jet Ski have killed  or injured many swimmers and riders in the past. Licenses of any kind, are not required for renters, just your cash. Intoxicated renters race between swimmers, snorkelers and surfers daily in Thai waters. They have a hard time controlling the horsepower of the watercraft and rarely wear suitable eye protection, so they are half blinded by sea water spray on top of that.

The rental guys are polite and friendly during the initial approach, some  of these have been documented to wield knifes or even guns, if the renter returns the watercraft and doesn't fork over huge amounts of extra cash for damages. The damage may be years old, but if a renter took it out for a ride – he will have to prove his innocence. Corrupt cops in uniform are quick on the scene and add pressure to the situation, they always side with the local rental gangs and may even be a part of this scam.

Although Jet Ski driving is a lot of fun to some, the potential risks in Thailand to get taken is latent. Malaysian Jet Ski rentals do not seem to have this burden to cope with. I always paid just for time used and often negotiated a discount or extra time for longer rentals on Langkawi or when on Penang's Batu Ferringhi coast. Parasailing (to hang in a parachute and get dragged by a boat) is also available there at much fairer prices.

The more modern watercraft in Thailand's southern neighbor country, are extremely fast and they do have a selection of Seadoos and real Jet Ski made by Kawasaki. It is quite a difference to what is being offered on Phuket's and Pattaya's beaches.

Thais consider every personal, small watercraft a Jet Ski ;). Even those horrific things with a regular outboard engine, as still available for rent in Thailand. These things are extremely dangerous, as the screws can maim swimmers or dismember limbs in a split second. Cha-Am, Bang Saen and other beaches still allow these right in large crowds of bathing kids and holiday guests!

Harmless objects, like the occasional coconut on tropical shores, can do seriously cause damage to a WaveRunner. They can actually break a hull, if they get between the sand and the bottom of the WaveRunner or Jet Ski. Rocks do similar damage, so make sure to avoid these, when returning the toy.

The Boys in Brown are of no help in any dispute with the local Jet Ski gangs, please keep that in mind and insist on Tourist Police for each and any quarrel you may have, their phone number is nationwide 1155. Better yet, chose safer places to enjoy your holiday fun – if you are undecided.

Those poor patrons, that have fallen victims to these scams, come in high numbers. Barely anyone raises his voice, they pay silently and duck away. If the authorities on law enforcement can't put a stop on this, tourism as such, will hurt significantly. There are a few media outlets, that do not duck away from the Jet Ski Mafia and those would like to have your story. Meanwhile, avoid the most dangerous shores in Patong on Phuket and Pattaya, until they clean up their act. TAT, the Tourism Authority, turns again a blind eye and plays happy-dandy, instead of offering legal help or at least a hotline for victims!

Thailand's beaches do well without this negative and annoying aspect, make it safe again for swimmers and visitors. Eliminate corruption and eradicate scams, where police seems to take an active part in the extortion of tourists!




UPDATE 17.03.2011:

Our Junior Chief Reporter Teddy discovered a Jet Ski ride, guaranteed free of any scam at the Robinson Department Store in Future Park Rangsit! :)

He claims that the ride cost doesn't exceed 10 Baht per 3 minutes of hard use and that they did not have shortened his riding duration, despite the fact that he is a genuine 0% Thai!

He will appreciate any donation in the form of 10 Baht coins to go on an endurance test by readers!

Phuket – a tiny beach called Paradise Beach

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

© Frank P. Schneidewind

Not all beaches on Phuket island are disgusting forests of beach umbrellas and full of the human hordes, that mass tourism brings to that Province of Thailand. Some rather secluded beaches can almost not be found on the touristic maps. Paradise Beach is one of them. It's relative close proximity to the nightlife hub and overly touristed beach in Patong, never really has bothered Paradise Beach, which has been a heaven for a selected few. Even before the big Tsunami devastated the coastline here, this was my absolute favorite place in this neck of the woods. It was a nightmarish ride on a moped over hills and through forests to get there. A dirt road, that never saw any maintenance, was the only way to get there. A boat ride from Patong was optional bookable, but always has been prohibitively expensive for me. Perhaps, if I would be doing my traveling and exploring in a group, I would opt for this, or if budget reasons would not be important.

Small way-markers could be spotted along the path, but the trail head was well hidden for many years. One just had to follow the coastline south of Patong and get to the hilly flank to the left side of Patong Bay (as seen from the beach).

A forestry trunk road or something similar, used to wind its way over the seaside hill. It stretches for a few miles uphill, before it descends dramatically to almost ocean level. If you were an inexperienced rider, your knees may have been bleeding by now, as the hill climb outdoes the climbing capability of small mopeds in the end. The relatively loose ground also did call for something with more tread, than ordinary motorcycle road tires. They covered the loose gravel now with a layer of cement, that greatly enhances chances to make it. Make sure to attempt this only as a single rider or on a dirt bike. Dual passengers were hardly able to make it to the top together.

The best is to drive ahead and signal your other passenger to come and follow afoot, when you have reached the peak safe. Groups of bikers should attempt the final leg one by one and not in a convoy, as the incline may require some sudden zig-zagging over the with of the road surface.

A small beach side restaurant here also sells refreshments to take away to your beach mat. That is for the case, that you do not want to hire one of their loungers.

Ocean kayaking was a big hit here, before the Tsunami rolled by. Paradise beach was not hit by the brunt of the massive wave, but it sure destroyed some property when it came by on it's way to hit Patong and all West facing beaches. This one basically faces North and is not as huge as others on Phuket. Accommodations never were built here, which may have added to preserve the beauty. The restaurant and shop owner picks up his goods and on occasion passengers, with his powerful 4×4 truck.

Unless you come in peak season, it is not crowded here and a lot cleaner than Patong for sure. No notorious Tuk Tuk pilots or jet ski dudes to spoil your day here. The restaurant surprisingly has reasonable prices and the rental fees for beach or snorkel gear, are not exaggerated. Ocean kayaking here requires slightly skilled paddlers, because there are currents, drifts and waves to negotiate out there.

A boat is stationed here and makes occasional pickup trips to Patong or Tri Trang beach. Tri Trang is the almost undeveloped natural beach to the South of Patong. One has to pass it, in order to get to Paradise Beach.

The water here is superb and very clear, it appears not to be contaminated at all. Patong gets bad headlines too often for my taste. Coliform bacteria and other unwanted things were found there in higher than average concentration, just recently again. Phuket has lost all 4 and 5 star rated beaches in 2010, this one they probably never checked.

Paradise Beach is too insignificant for tourism, no lewd drag queens in sight, no 24 hour big macs on a beach side road, no beer bars or kathoey shows near here. Not even those notorious beach sales people make it here. The beach sand has a very light color and is powdery fine. Some larger boulders on both ends may be climbed or used as a natural chair or lounger. This beach appears to be good for kids as well, as it is fairly easy to supervise them. Plenty of things to do as well.

Across the bay, one can spot Kamala Beach, another famous touristic hot-spot. Not quite as raunchy, as Patong, more of a family holiday area, but well developed. Parts of Patong can be seen at times, but the noise from there luckily doesn't carry this far.

The sand here at Paradise Beach is probably so light colored, because of many reefs in nearby proximity. Broken corals at the flanks denote the existence nearby. Snorkeling is supposed to be rewarding here,, as reefs attract an abundance of marine life forms. Please do not feel tempted to take any coral from here, it is prohibited and may give you a problem at customs here or at your home airport!;)

The long stretch of Tri Trang Beach, can be spotted from the hill. A scenic viewpoint here is not signposted, but worth a photo stop on your way back.

Make sure to pay this beach a visit, when coming to Phuket. It is pretty here on a nice weather day and even then hardly as crowded as most other beaches.